Hiestand, husband/caddie make for great team

Mary Jane Hiestand with her caddie/husband Jeff.

Mary Jane Hiestand with her caddie/husband Jeff.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Mary Jane Hiestand walked off the 18th green at the Country Club of Orlando grumbling about her 80. Qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is a one-shot deal, and though there were only 14 players in the field and four spots up for grabs, Hiestand knew she might be in trouble.

But, the 54-year-old Florida alumna qualified on the number for the Oct. 5-10 event at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C., snatching the last spot out of steamy central Florida. Hiestand has been playing in the Mid-Am for more than 20 years (her best finish, advancing to the third round), and these USGA qualifiers, especially, hold a special place in her heart. After all, it was at a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in 1997 that “M.J.” met her future husband, Jeff.

Hiestand, a native of Michigan, was out watching a friend compete at the Ohio Women’s Amateur when she met Jeff in the fairway of the 10th hole. She mentioned that she was playing in a USGA qualifier that afternoon and needed a caddie. Jeff volunteered his services.

Smitten from the start, Jeff tried to woo M.J. Anderson, only to find out she was already in a relationship.

“I gave up,” he said.

Fast forward to 2001, when a mutual friend learned that M.J. – Michigan’s Player of the Decade – was back on the market. He called while she was playing in the USGA State Team Championship, and they talked several times a day.

“I’d only seen her one day in my life,” said Jeff, who again offered his caddie services at the upcoming U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, at Fox Run Golf Club in Eureka, Mo.

“A lot of people remember us at Fox Run,” said M.J., who lost in the second round. The couple decided to drive to nearby St. Louis and had dinner at Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill.

“I’m sitting there having a drink, and the next thing I know, Jeff is saying, 'I want to marry you,’ ” M.J. said, still beaming. She felt the same way, and six months later they were married.

“It was love at first sight back in 1997,” said Jeff, who retired from the banking industry and moved to Naples, Fla., where the couple now resides.

Jeff has caddied for Mary Jane in 11 U.S. Mid-Ams, five U.S. Seniors and at least one USGA State Team Championship. Mary Jane said the couple agrees on most everything. Except maybe one thing.

“I don’t take any strokes,” said Jeff, an 8-handicap. “But I should get some.”

And maybe a hard-earned tip.

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